Reading the Globe will lead 15 students and five faculty-staff members on a study-travel program reflective of the University’s international mission. Students selected for the program include:
Erik U. Vazquez, Megan J. Unrath, Talitha S. Wisner, Alexia N. Villarreal, Alejandro Benavides
Alexander T. Simpson, Victor A. Rodríguez, Carlos A. Fuentes, Jr., Maribel Gomez, Johanna E. Webb
China L. Jennings, Christine A. Segovia, Cynthia M. Urteaga, Emily G. Estrada, Valeria M. Valdez, and Alyssa A. Gibeaut.
Their experience will be shared right here with regular blog entries being posted as they are on their travels.
The group departed Laredo on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 and arrived in New Delhi, India on Thursday, January 7, 2016.
Alexia N. Villarreal - First Flight
Up until January 5, 2016 I had never been given the opportunity to board an airplane; as luck would have it, Texas A&M International University allowed me the opportunity to snag a trip half way around the world that would place me in and around airplanes for 22 hours. The first flight was nothing less than sheer beauty, with the sun setting and filling the surrounding clouds a slightly pink and purple hue. It is easy to believe by just looking out the window you can find the meaning of life. Once I landed in Frankfurt, Germany the ambiance had completely changed; I was taken out of my comfort zone and put in a place where I could not speak the language, much less could I easily assimilate. For the first time I was considered the foreigner. Tired, hungry, and slightly anxious the group made their way through the maze of the airport to board our flight to Delhi eager to see what adventures were in store for us.
Carlos Fuentes- On our Arrival
We spent over twenty hours on planes. Fortunately, we had our travel mates sitting next to us all throughout, so we could sympathize with each other's jet lag. I spent the majority of the plane rides asleep, waking only for the meals provided by the great flight service. After the transatlantic flight from Houston to Frankfurt, we got a taste of the polished, European lifestyle from the enormous Frankfurt airport. I had toured Germany a year and a half ago and was wearing my München pullover; it attracted a bit of attention from the security who questioned my agenda for this trip. After the enjoyable Lufthansa flight to New Delhi, we completed airport procedures, met our friendly tour guide, and made our way to our hotel. Thus far, the most surprising aspect of the culture that I've seen here is Indian hospitality. I am writing this on our second day in India, so there is still much to see, but at this point the Indian idea of hospitality is surprisingly incredible. The service provided to us at our stay was very welcoming and attentive. We were all very grateful for their kindness. We enjoyed a night snack and a breakfast at Novotel, and each were balanced meals with curiously exotic flavors. The names of the foods were many and foreign, so unfortunately I cannot recall what we ate for this blog. Although I will note that the experience was highly memorable, and I encourage all to step beyond their familiar comfort-zones so that you may enjoy the excitement of discovering foreign cultures.
Valeria Valdez - On the way to Agra
There's a particular scent to India, it's like their own. It was definitely the first indicator that we weren't home anymore. Stepping foot first into the country couldn't compare though to riding through New Delhi on our way to Agra. My face was glued to the window and my eyes clung onto every piece of this seemingly isolated world. The ground, the walls, and every space in between appeared to be occupied by a trace of life whether it was bodies, colorful stores, scattered clothing, stray dogs, monkeys, oxen, and homes that ranged from hut like houses to cracks on the buildings. It made me wonder if feeling lonely or even listening to yourself think here was even possible. India has their own noise too, and it comes in a familiar one but still very distinct; I had lost count how many times a car, motorcycle or rickshaw blared their horn as they announced their presence. Sitting on the bus felt like an outer body experience because it was as if everybody on that road understood an unspoken rule of "Go and survive". Each time a car expertly made their way around the others around them with the haste and recklessness with which they did, I was left amazed and it was a thrill to say the least to be a part of that moment.
Christine Segovia - The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Knowing this, anyone who hasn't visited the building themselves can maybe get the idea that it's an important place and is most probably marvelous. Visiting for the first time myself, I can say that the building's actual entirety and magnitude completely surpasses the idea I had from that title alone. The building was built out of love and heartbreak to hold the remains of the Mughal emperor's passing wife. Architected to be perfect on paper so that no changes would ever be made during or after its completion, the entire enclosure is completely symmetrical and encrusted with semi-precious stones and hand carvings.
Walking in through the front gate, you're able to overlook the beautiful gardens and the Taj Mahal straight ahead. That sight alone is beautiful, however, the experience truly breathtaking for me was found going through the Taj Mahal building itself, past the back doors and onto the platform facing the river. You're above ground and able to overlook the river and the land behind it that only seems to stretch on for miles. Looking over at the rest of Agra, India, my heart felt full and my mind at peace. There is definitely something I can only describe as magic that flows throughout the place. Up there, the building's history and reason completely overcame me and I found myself in this grasp of a fascinating peace and wonder. Undoubtedly, one has to go see the building for themselves in order to truly receive the enchantment the building reveals.
Emily Estrada - The Saga of Love
Megan Unrath- Visit to the Agra Fort
When we were told we would be touring around Fort Agra in India, my mind wandered to thoughts of the Alamo in San Antonio, thinking it could be something similar, but I was very wrong. Upon approaching the fort, I was amazed that it was much more in the likeness of a palace rather than something any military would use. It took us quite a while to walk around and inside the red sandstone and white marble structures, and what we saw was only twenty-five percent of the entire fort- it was astoundingly massive. Walking around the room of a late king of India who was put under house arrest by his son, I thought of the immense amount of anguish he must have felt, as well as the longing for his wife when he would stare across the horizon at her final resting place, the Taj Mahal. Since coming to India and visiting places such as Fort Agra, I have gained so much knowledge about the people and culture here, and could not be more excited for what is in store for me while exploring even more of India!
Sometimes we oversee the details in life. However, in India, the most intricate work can be found in the historical buildings. While visiting the Taj Mahal, I discovered the history behind the handy work. It is constructed entirely out of white pearlescent marble and several semiprecious stones such as grey, yellow, and red sandstone. Every semiprecious stone was perfectly hand crafted to fit their designed location. Luckily, I was fortunate to see the craftsmanship first hand and experience it for myself. I was extremely impressed by the worker's patience and skillful hands. It takes a special set of hands to make the masterpieces in this world.
Alex Benavides- Walking through Delhi
The walk to the Red Fort was an experience of its own. Up until this time, all our traveling within India was on bus, so this was all new to us. The walk was overwhelming to say the least, yet exciting and thrilling at the same time. It was very crowded and there was so much to look at. Everywhere you looked, people were selling, negotiating, buying, eating and, of course, walking. It seemed easy to get lost, so concentrating on staying together was imminent. The amazing thing is that we were getting only but a glimpse of the everyday Indian life. We were soon shown that they rely heavily on their own small businesses and offices; jobs within the city are rare. Because there are no huge corporations like Walmart, the Indian people rely heavily on each other for food, clothes, and other necessities. We learned that in order to live, one needs to contribute in some way.
Cynthia Urteaga- Feeling like Home
When we walk through the busy streets of India it is difficult to focus on much but all the activity surrounding us. The buzz of the people is fascinating, yet it can be extremely distracting. I have breezed by certain sites and most likely missed some exquisite pieces of architecture, but the Indian Gate is impossible to ignore. It stands majestically as a remembrance site for the fallen soldiers of World War I and also commemorates the soldiers of the wars that followed. The walls are engraved with the names and ranks of British and Indian soldiers, and an eternal flame along with a rifle stand underneath it making the Gate much more ethereal. Every year on January 26th the people of India march from the Presidential Palace to the Indian Gate in order to celebrate their independence from British rule. When we arrived the sun was shining bright and giving a unique glow to the Gate that completely took my breath away. It stands on a perfect area, for it is not surrounded by anything and it is given the unique space it deserves. The eyes of both locals and tourists were completely fixated on the Indian Gate and sound ceased to exist as we gazed at it. The meaning behind the Indian Gate is a melancholic one, as many pieces of history are, but the essence of peace that it radiates makes anyone feel like they are home.
Victor Rodriguez- Fresh start in Bangaluru
Last night was the start of a new facet of our journey in India as we arrived in Bengaluru (formerly known as "Bangalore)" located in the state of Karnataka. This world IT capital is known as the Silicon Valley of India as well as the Garden City. We saw for ourselves how Bengaluru earned that nickname when we visited the botanical gardens in stunning park of Lalbagh. The vast range of botany included trees that are over 200 years old and over 200 feet tall--a truly impressive sight to behold. Our day's journey then took us to the Bull Temple in Basavanagudi that is dedicated to the vessel of Lord Shiva. The small temple is situated in an interesting location as it is a holy temple surrounded by local residences. It made the perfect combination of the sacred amid the ordinary. Our next stop made an even bigger impression. We visited the ISKCON temple, which is dedicated to Lord Krishna. This enormous temple in the middle of the city occupies seven acres and offers stunning views of the city below.
At the ISKCON Temple, a monk named Kulashekaraa Chaitanya Dasa shared his perspective of the world made an impression on me. He spoke about happiness and moderation and included his reason for giving up dentistry to become a monk. He believes that we should all share with our neighbors, and be happy with what we have. One of his fellow monks approached me as we were walking deeper into the temple and told me, "we do not live lavishly but we are very happy here." The simplicity of his statement told me more about India that I have learned in the past few days. I greatly admire the access that the locals have to their temples and mosques. During the visit to the ISKCON temple there was a presentation given about the Akshaya Patra organization. This is a non-profit organization that has dedicated its efforts to feeding poor children and giving them an opportunity for a future by encouraging school attendance. They currently feed over 1.5 million children a hot and nutritious lunch every day in several cities across the nation and they are determined to increase that number to 5 million by the year 2020. Their remarkable kitchen and food prep processes were shown to us and I know that I have witnessed a transparent organization with a clear mission and ambitious goals. They most certainly have my attention and consideration.
Talitha Wisner- Yoga is Life
Today is the halfway point of our journey in India, and our itinerary in Bangalore is as fast paced as the traffic, with as many sightseeing adventures scheduled during the day as possible. Amid the hubbub of activity, it is easy to forget the importance of patience, respect, and acceptance of ourselves and others. Professor Raghuram, a world renowned Yogi from the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samasthana (SVYASA), encouraged our practice of yoga as a means to consciously realign our minds and bodies into a harmonious life force void of the tension accumulated in everyday trivialities. To help us, students, balance our academic and athletic efforts, Professor Raghuram suggested we rise early to practice Sun Salutations, a total of about twenty postures three times over, every morning during the semester. His prior work with Olympic athletes has proven this morning ritual enhances performance by allowing the body ample time to relax at its baseline. His efforts to perpetuate yoga therapy and its benefits are doubled with the help of the Yoga Research Facility, a conjoining department at the world class yoga university which provides contextual evidence supporting the practice. In the labs, students research the effects yoga has on cognitive neuroscience, bio energy, psychophysiology, and much more.
Megan Unrath- Elephant Ride
The elephant is hands down my favorite animal, and one I have a lot of respect for. They are loving, extremely intelligent, and have many emotions in the likeness of mankind; they even mourn their dead! Today, we came across the opportunity to ride on this beautiful creature, and I snatched it up quite eagerly. As I walked through the gate to the pen where they stay for the day, I stared in awe at the elephant; I took in the speckled, floppy ears, the lengthy trunk, the dark, soft eyes, and within minutes I was on its back, my legs swaying over the side of him and my body bobbing with each step he took. I found that I could not stop laughing- I was having so much fun! I waved at many people on foot we passed, who seemed to return my enthusiasm in smiling and waving back. When I begrudgingly returned my feet to their normal place on the ground, I stroked the trunk of the elephant affectionately, hoping that maybe he would understand how I felt, how happy he had made me today.
Alex Benavides - Silk Market Visit
The silk market we visited is unlike any other market I've been to. We were introduced to the origins of the silk on our clothes, blankets, sweaters and other everyday objects that we use. Walking in, it was easy to spot large quantities of cocoons laying in bins. It came to a surprise to me that the worms were still inside all the cocoons! We were given a tour of the testing center where they start examining the cocoons. The worm is removed and they determine the quality of the cocoon which will determine the price of the lots placed on the bins we encountered when we arrived.
They explained that after the lot is purchased, the silk merchants place the cocoons in boiling water so the worm can die and be removed. The whole experience was very intriguing. It was interesting to learn about the process of silk: where it comes from, how it's extracted, and the shipment of it.
China Jennings- A summer palace in Mysore
Settled just on the outskirts of Bangalore, the city of Mysore thrives in vibrant, fertile land. It was founded by rich farmers that used the land for the growth of sugarcane. Today, it is known for its growth of rice. As we made our way to the center of the city, we visited a summer palace used by Tippu, a ruler of Mysore from the past. He fought the British in their conquest of the land and was found dead on his way to pray. The building showcased the battle, while displaying other battles of the past through paintings that were preserved on the wooden walls of the glorious summer palace.
Cynthia Urteaga- Infosys
Infosys stands in Electronic City, or as many refer to it: India's Silicon Valley. Infosys is a company that mainly focuses on business consulting, information technology, and software engineering. Founded in 1981 by seven professionals, Infosys has widely expanded in both popularity and profit. Since 1981, it has been able to open its doors in many different countries, it has been listed on NASDAQ, and in 2004 it reached its first billion. When we arrived at the company, we were instantly shocked by its grandeur. I had never seen anything like it, and I was amazed by all the sights we encountered. We were led to a private conference room that could only be compared to those of the United Nations. After the presentation, we were driven around the campus and marveled at the incredible sights. The campus is stocked with just about anything including: gyms, food courts, beauty salons, and a pool like no other. We were all captivated by the beautiful innovation of Infosys, and some of us even promised to work for the company someday.
Christine Segovia- Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled
Today we visited the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, which is a highly known NGO that serves almost like a boarding school for people of all ages who are underprivileged and have different disabilities. The program works to make life as normal and as full as possible for their people, despite the obstacles they've been given. They do this through a wide variety of programs ranging from computer software designed to teach the visually impaired to highly ranked cricket and dance teams consisting of both blind and deaf students. The one thing that struck me most about this organization was that walking through the building and meeting the students, I noticed nothing but smiles and happiness. The people were kind, warm-hearted, and open regardless of the tough set of cards they were dealt. Their souls were beautiful and filled with spirit. Through this experience, I have been enlightened with an entire new concept of poverty. I found that although their physical state was challenging, their mental and emotional state was always a positive one, whereas in America, it's the complete opposite. Physical poverty is something easy to fix in comparison to spiritual poverty. The majority of people in first world countries have homes and are well-fed, yet a high number of those same people suffer from depression and anxiety. When placed in a country so full of spirit, it made me realize the reality of spiritual poverty in my country. India and this organization have shown me a lesson I so wish others could witness firsthand. I have nothing but respect for what the people of this organization are doing, and I plan to follow their progress when I get back home. I cannot wait to see where it goes.
Maribel Gomez- A Floating Reflection
The world shifted below as we slowly inched away from the gateway of India. Here, within the safety of our boat, I watched the marvelous sight grow smaller and smaller with the increasing distance. The typical scent that tends to accompany wild untamable waters intermingled with the smell of fresh fruits being transported to Elephanta, an island off the cost of Mumbai. It's quite funny actually because, in a similar way, it was easy to observe as we intermingled with the boat crew and traveling locals, an observation pointedly confirmed by the specks of our maroon shirts harmonizing with plaids, stripes, and a couple of blindingly beautiful saris. As I attempted to look ahead onto our direction, it became necessary to shield my eyes from the ever looming sun. I quickly grew tired of this losing battle and settled for watching the waters; dainty little boats caused meek ripples while huge intimidating cargo ships tore their way through with slow creeping grace. I tried to take it all in, appreciating the world around me, and fully grasping the precious concept of how small and insignificant we are compared to the immensity of the Arabian Sea. The engine noisily spurred and then stopped, dragging me away from my thoughts. We had arrived. I hurried out of my seat and clumsily stepped onto solid ground. Elefanta Island was waiting to meet us.
Maribel Gomez- The National Gallery of Modern Art
After an exciting morning, our group headed toward the National Gallery of Modern art for a quiet, relaxing afternoon. The current exhibition was "The State of Architecture: Practices & Processes in India." It focused on how India's identity and architecture go hand in hand. The running theme was centered on a timeline that spiraled up multiple floors. Important dates for both India and its skyline were written out and accompanied by beautiful photographs. The entrance was plastered with an assortment of architectural magazines that have played a major role in influencing urban development. Along the stairs, meaningful quotes in bold challenged you to think of architecture as a way of life as opposed to just thoughtless construction. The top two floors were of particular interest to me as they were both more interactive and modern. On these levels, a slide presentation described what it means to India, as a whole, to have found its identity through construction. Along with this, an expanding wall practically swallows you whole and provides a bird's eye view of a multitude of monumental buildings. The evolution of this country was showcased in such a way that it feels as if I'm looking at India through a fresh set of eyes: clearer and in focus.
Carlos Fuentes- The Elephanta Caves
With just a couple of days remaining, we soak in as much of India as we can. Yesterday we went to the Elephanta caves near Mumbai. We had to take a ferry for an hour to the island where the caves are, and that was surprisingly relaxing. Once there, we climbed 120 steps to the top of the island mountain and found ourselves at the threshold of a massive, aged, basalt memorial. Found in the 18th century, this memorial was made for Shiva the Destroyer. Unlike the other edifices we saw that were made for gods, this one was not a temple of worship, so we did not have to remove our shoes to enter. It is believed that this structure was built between the 5th and 7th centuries, but today some of the work has faded and been lost. We learned that it was not created by slave workers, but by generations of skilled artisans. The seven caves were hollowed rather than constructed. After enjoying the great structures of Shiva, Aghora,Tatpurusha, and Vandeva with Sadyojata within the caves, we proceeded back down the mountain, while encountering many, friendly animals like cattle, dogs, and monkeys.
Erik Vazquez- Indian Cuisine
Marked by strong spicy flavors, fragrant sauces, vast varieties of curry, and mostly vegetarian plates, Indian food has become the basis of our daily meals on this wonderful trip. Although the variety of dishes has changed as we've moved from city to city, the delicious tortilla-like Naan, Masala Chai tea, Pulao rice, Noodles, and the exquisite Mango Lassi are commonly found everywhere we go. Thanks to an undeniable use of exotic spices, vegetables, and protein rich legumes, the absence of beef in Indian cuisine is almost undetected. For many of us, these plates are synonyms of deliciousness; for others, not so much. It is all a matter of taste. Fans of spices will find eating Indian food delightful, while people with delicate tongues will find the option of starvation more appealing. Personally, although I don't consider myself a culinary adventurer, these days I've tried many plates that I would never had eaten before. Hunger pushed me to experiment, and in the practice, I discovered that Indian food, despite its unfamiliar appearance and strong smell, is actually quite phenomenal.
Alexia Villarreal- The Entertainment Industry
When watching a movie one rarely considers the work that goes on behind the scenes and before the actors are even cast. Our trip to Bollywood gave us a quick glance into the surreal life of the making of a feature film. Our guides were more than welcoming into their life of acting and show business. The day started off with some karaoke on the bus where they showed us some popular Hindi songs, and we returned the favor by playing songs by a classic favorite Selena Quintanilla! After an hour long ride that seemed more like 5 minutes we took a tour of the set company S.J. studios to visit different sets and watched some of the makings of how camera men set up the different shots for each character! Soon after we were taken into a theater where professional dancers showed us several popular dance moves and invited the crowd to get up and dance! Some brave few ventured up and danced alongside the professionals while other were equally as content watching the whole show from their seats. After photos were taken and smiles exchanged, we were loaded back onto the bus and brought back to reality, but we all left with something. We left with greater appreciation for the arts and the hard working men and women behind the scenes.